The purpose of this post is to begin to articulate the conceptual and material differences between a stereotype and a stigma, as each relates to sex work. My hope is that it will be useful to students in the “Sex Work and Sex Workers” class that I TA (which is why it reads as a primer on these concepts—because it is), as well as to sex work activists who are looking for rhetorical and theoretical tools to better explain how social beliefs and attitudes about sex work affect their lives. Continue reading
I did a talk for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers last December, and I gave an edited version to Tits and Sass as a personal essay. It’s published under my fakey-fake name because sometimes I use Tits and Sass as a teaching tool, so I didn’t want my name front and centre on there.
This piece is adapted from a December 17th speech the author gave this year.
“You’re so lazy, you’ll never be anything but a whore. And you won’t even be a good whore because nobody wants to fuck a girl with a book in front of her face.” Continue reading
Naomi, of http://www.kwetoday.com, has created this fantastic template letter for folks to send to their MPs in opposition to Bill C36, the Conservatives’ new anti-prostitution legislation. It explains clearly why this legislation is dangerous and ought to be trashed.
I have received a lot of messages from friends who were asking about what this Bill is all about? Here is a link explaining the Bill that is much easier to read than the Bill itself. This Bill is in response to the Bedford v Canada decision (which was an unanimous Supreme Court Decision). You can read about that decision here (and here is the actual SCC decision). Following this, many friends have also asked what they can do to help.
One way you can help is to write a letter to your MP. Here is a template to help you to write a letter to oppose #c36. You can find out who your MP is here. It is free (meaning no postage required) to send your MP a letter. A French-translation will be posted as it becomes available.
If you are looking for anymore sources and…
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As most people already know, the Conservative government released its proposed legislation related to prostitution yesterday. I sent this letter to Rick Dykstra and Peter MacKay today echoing the call for the bill to be scrutinized by the Supreme Court of Canada.
By maintaining the law against public communication by sex workers, coupled with provisions making it impossible to work indoors and difficult for sex workers who use drugs to work with others, the bill replicates exactly the same brutal conditions of criminalization that have been taking sex workers’ lives since the 1980s.
Regardless of where you stand on the criminalization of bosses and consumers, please raise your voice to object to provisions that can only facilitate violence against sex workers.
Dear Peter MacKay and Rick Dykstra,
I’m writing to echo the call for Bill C36, “The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act,” to be submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada for review to determine whether its provisions pass constitutional muster.
In December 2013, the SCC decided unanimously that the federal government does not have the right to get sex workers killed in the name of eliminating prostitution. Canada’s anti-prostitution laws (which criminalized public communication for the purpose of prostitution, working indoors in a brothel, and taking money from sex workers) were shown to cause immeasurable harm to sex workers.
As analysis by Pivot Legal Society and many others has shown, the government’s proposed new legislation is not substantially different from the unconstitutional laws. It still criminalizes communication in almost every public place; it criminalizes the advertising sex workers must do in order to work indoors, effectively making off-street work impossible; and it still criminalizes many kinds of relationships with sex workers that are not exploitative, forcing sex workers to be isolated. These three practices, taken together, are lethal. They always have been.
I call on Peter MacKay and the Government of Canada to submit this legislation for review by the Supreme Court of Canada, and to draft, in its place, legislation that truly protects sex workers’ lives and livelihoods.
MA candidate, Geography, Brock University
Please feel free to use my letter as a template for your own. I plan to phone my MP tomorrow to repeat my demand for scrutiny of this terrible piece of legislation by the Supreme Court. You can find out who your MP is here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseofCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC
This is Not Feminist Legislation, and it’s Not Supply-Side Decriminalization
For those of us who would like to see sex workers totally decriminalized within our lifetimes, the Conservative government’s Bill C36 – a replacement for the anti-prostitution laws struck down by the Supreme Court in R v. Bedford – was worse than we thought. I think a lot of us, including me, were expecting to see a hollowed-out version of the Nordic Model. Y’know, lots of bluster about pimpsnjohns and no more than the barest of lip service to addressing workers’ “push factors”: things like poverty that make prostitution one of very few viable options for many workers, labour market conditions outside of the sex industry that make sex work, even under the brutal conditions of criminalization, more attractive than temporary or minimum wage work. Joy Smith’s Tipping Point in bill form.
What we got are the same laws we had before, dressed up a bit and with sharper teeth. The better to get people killed with.
There is a law criminalizing the purchase of sex. But pre-Bedford anti-prostitution laws also criminalized clients, and we have
already seen how they were enforced. There is also exactly the same communicating law as before – the same communicating law that is undoubtedly responsible for hundreds’ of women’s deaths and countless women’s incarcerations – but now it’s limited to areas where there might be children. That could include any residential or commercial neighbourhood (so basically everywhere), which means sex workers will still be pushed into industrial areas at night, and will still be rushing transactions with their criminalized clients. We know exactly how this story ends.
The new “BUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN” veneer on this dangerous, cruel law doesn’t actually give sex workers space to work in their communities—but it does codify in law the cultural belief that sex workers ought not to be near children. Maybe someone with more legal knowledge than I have would be willing to discuss how this could affect sex workers in family court or interactions with child protective services (we know that Indigenous women are overrepresented among outdoor sex workers and, not by coincidence, that Indigenous children are overrepresented among children in foster care—so this really matters). Or how it could affect sex workers being denied housing in certain buildings or neighbourhoods, or former sex workers facing discrimination in non-sex employment. Continue reading
For those who don’t know, Kim Pate is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a national association that represents a group of local social service organizations, all named for the Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. Their mission is to reduce women’s incarceration in Canada.
Elizabeth Fry Societies help women access legal aid, run diversion programs that women can be sentenced to complete instead of going to prison, supervise probation and community service, offer assistance meeting basic food and shelter needs, offer counselling and therapy, help women get pardons and do other stuff related to the general idea of making life a little easier for criminalized women. If you can swallow the smug self-righteousness that social workers seem to be trained in, and if you ignore the fact that “reform” and “collaboration with the criminal justice system” are very much one and the same here, you could say they are a force for good in a world where very few people give any fucks at all what happens to criminalized women.
The Supreme Court of Canada Thinks Human Trafficking is AWESOME
Since Pate became executive director, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies has also been an abolitionist organization, supporting “End Demand” laws. Fine. She’s probably not interested in changing her mind about that. But I want to talk about Pate’s response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws as unconstitutional. As the CBC reports, Pate said:
It’s a sad day that we’ve now had confirmed that it’s OK to buy and sell women and girls in this country. I think generations to come — our daughters, their granddaughters and on — will look back and say, ‘What were they thinking?’ …
To say that [prostitution] is a choice when you’re talking about the women we work with is to say that in fact it’s OK to just exploit them. …
We’ve never seen men criminalized for buying and selling women and girls. We’ve always seen women criminalized for selling themselves. We absolutely object to the criminalization of women. Our position would not interfere with those women who truly have made their choices.
We’ve seen plenty of “prostitution is bad and everyone who disagrees with me is a lying pimp” rhetoric these last few days (Jacqueline Guillion, determined not to admit that the Bedford applicants are current and former sex workers, called them “hopeful pimps”). That’s to be expected.
But criminalized women are kinda relying on Kim Pate to know what the fuck she’s talking about, considering she’s heading up a national legal advocacy organization on their behalf. And if it’s not the case that Pate doesn’t understand the Bedford decision, well criminalized women (and the general public) are also relying on her to not mislead them. Continue reading
I’ve added a page to this blog. It’s an archive of reading lists I sometimes make for funsies on Twitter. The first two links are to lists of open-access scholarly articles on:
- Indigenous sex work, gentrification and violence against Indigenous women in Canada
- Criminalization of HIV in Canada and the US (mostly)
You can find them here: https://autocannibalism.wordpress.com/open-access-reading-lists/
I’ll add other lists, and I’ll take suggestions of topics from sex workers, community members, allies, etc who want a quick primer on recent research literature on a social justice issue. This is fun for me, so I’m not picky about what I look up, as long as I know enough about it to be judicious about which readings to include.
I’d also be open to archiving other people’s lists (with proper credit, of course!) if you are into making them, don’t have a place of your own to keep track of them, and can do topics that I don’t know enough about to do myself.
I will not take suggestions of topics from undergraduate students who have been assigned research essays in their classes. Yes, I will know the difference. And yes, I will google you and rat you out to your professor. If you are a student, use your university library’s webpage to search a database of journals related to your topic — that’s the kind of research skill that lasts a lifetime.
Before I finished my BA, I encountered a social worker who was working on her MA. Her politics were generally pro-decriminalization, but she also liked to trade in horror stories about women whose vaginas fell out from having so much sex. She had secured the cooperation of a rescue organization that collaborated with police to be allowed to study their Very Marginalized Whores. She wanted my help nailing down her research question.
“Don’t do this study,” I said. “Find something else to research.”
“OMG why are you so mean?” was more or less her answer.
I’m finishing one MA and starting another right now. In my first MA, I have studied sex work for a few years. In my second MA, I will not study sex work. I am going to explain why, and I hope others in the same position will also choose not to study sex work. Continue reading
So I did not get a job teaching a sex work class — there is a guy with more seniority who usually teaches it, and happens to be qualified for it, who was maybe gonna leave, but then he didn’t. I get to work as his TA, though, and the course he designed, while very different from what I would do (and therefore ALL WRONG), looks like it’ll be pretty cool.
What struck me about it is that, despite having more or less the same analysis of sex work as work and work as a site of class struggle, and despite even using one of the same books, we produced very different courses. This is a product of our different disciplinary backgrounds. Dan Crow, the author of the syllabus pasted below, comes from a political science background, and my background is in literary and cultural studies. So my course design looks a lot more like a cultural studies course. With Dan’s permission, I’ve posted his syllabus here as demonstration of what a difference discipline makes — it’s not just a matter of who studies sex work or how they do it, but the different kinds of training we’ve had on what constitutes knowledge and how people go about “knowing” makes a big difference in what and how we want to teach about sex work and sex workers.
Another thing Dan’s class shows is an unexpected silence in two otherwise fantastic books on sex work, specifically around pornography and queerness. He’s used readings from other sources to make sure these topics are included in the course, but I was surprised to see that this was the only place he really had to go outside the chapters in the books. Is pornography less interesting to sex work scholars because we still look at it more in terms of the representation issues brought up by the sex wars? Why aren’t we talking more about the successes and failures of feminist and queer porn, as they attempt to address power relations in the workplace?
Listening to Sex Workers
Dan’s course, like mine, includes a requirement for students to use sex workers’ writings in their essay assignments. This is something we concocted with another instructor last year, and Dan has been trying out with his classes. It addresses two problems: first, that students are getting the wrong idea about who the “experts” on sex work are by just reading books by academics about them. It’s a lot harder to ignore everything sex workers’ have to say about their lives that doesn’t fit your preconceived ideas about what should be done about sex work when you have to actually critically integrate their ideas into your arguments.
Second, it addresses the problem of students taking up sex workers’ time with their essay assignments. Requests for personalized sources for research are something most sex worker organizations and advocates deal with regularly. And while it’s great that students are thinking about how to learn from sex workers, their essays don’t go anywhere that serves sex working communities and they often don’t have the skills (and sometimes the desire) to do their research ethically. As noted in both of the links directly above, what sex workers want from researchers are (1) research that is useful to them, (2) a say in the design of studies and reports and (3) critical reflection on the researcher’s relationship to the sex industry. Most undergraduates aren’t at a place where they can offer that. Sending them to talk to sex workers about their essays puts them in a position that is not give-and-take, but all take. Continue reading
Apparently this is my new blog theme: re-posting my letters to that fucking feminist listserv and making all kinds of GAH ARGH UGH noises while I do it. (Also, I really doubt this one will pass the moderators to make it on the listserv itself. To their credit, they posted it after a short delay, so far without comment.)
Every time I see a sex worker become a vocal antifeminist, I feel sad. “Sure, feminism has problems,” I think to myself. “But don’t hop in bed with the enemy over it!” And then feminism does shit like this.
For anyone who is not following (which is everyone except about 1600 feminists in Canada who subscribe to the Policy Action Research Listserv), there is a feminist listserv in Canada which hosts regular, unpleasant “debates” about whether or not to “abolish” prostitution and whether or not trans women are real women. There are also posts of events, interesting articles and other announcements to the list, but sex work and trans women do get the bulk of the discussion and debate.
It is always awful. The debates are beyond pointless, and do little besides blow my mind, over and over, that holy shit. I am actually having to argue to a feminist law professor that a sex worker’s domestic violence and child custody issues belong inside a feminist analysis. That’s a conversation I never thought I’d have. But I’ve also seen a back-and-forth between two non-sex working men about sex work, in which one announced that nothing the other was saying mattered because the other was only a medical doctor who researches sex work and besides, he appears to have liked boobies on his Facebook. (The “like” in question was in relation to Facebook’s ban on breastfeeding images, which a feminist doctor would legitimately be interested in, even if he is only a medical doctor.) So, you know, feminism happens.
But in July, there was an exchange about Radfem Rise Up’s exclusion of trans women and an exchange about the murder of a Swedish sex worker amidst a particularly bad convergence of aboltionist laws. Typically debates on Par-L are undertaken by interested, but unaffected, parties. In these two cases, however, a trans person and a sex worker actually took part in the discussion.
Par-L responded by banning all discussion of sex work or trans women until after Labour Day. Continue reading